Branding New Avenues

Brands and branding are much debated and written about terms. The book stores are full of books on branding; Google search will throw up more pages on branding than one can read in a lifetime. A whole enterprise has been built on one word: brand. It is not my intention to discuss what a brand is or what it stands for. It is my intention to discuss where we can take the process of branding and what new challenges we face in the future. Just for the sake of argument, let us assume that in simplest terms branding is about stimulus and response. A brand is a stimulus designed to impact behavior. It changes, reinforces, and maintains the behavior in such a way that brands become desirable. And in the process become a sort of pattern, which the consumers keep repeating, as a response to the stimulus. There are three new challenges that the world of branding needs to tackle:

CHALLENGE OF COMPLICATED PRODUCTS:

Branding has traversed the world of product and services. However, one area where it has barely scratched the surface is in how to brand a country. Creating a country mark can actually be a fairly complicated and challenging task. From “Proudly South African” to “Cool Britannica” to “Incredible India,” nations are trying to create country marks. But have they really captured the entire reality of the country. Can the country as a brand be reduced to one or two or three facets? And should these efforts not traverse from the world of tourism to encompass a wider arena? Nation as a brand is far more complicated. National brand is a sum total a country’s history, culture, its products and services, its people, its customers, its financials, its operations, and its leadership. Maybe it’s time for nations to define their values, beliefs, and even appoint a minister of branding.

CHALLENGE OF TECHNOLOGY:

Technology is changing the world rapidly, and the world of branding is not able to keep pace. Internet, cell phones, gaming devices, software, and the like are change agents. And the changes they drive are not a progression of current realities but a brand new reality. They create new categories that challenge the old ones. In the process, they kill the old categories. ’Net telephony challenges the long distance telephone companies; text messaging creates a new behavior that kills writing letters. Brands have to be ready to face the challenge of category. And unlike in the past where the rise of digital photography was slow and staggered, the new technologies are far more democratic. They seep into the world much faster and give very little time to react.

CHALLENGE OF SOCIETY:

The world of branding needs to go beyond the world of profit and that too fairly quickly. Brands have the ability to create mass movements. They have the ability to foster a new social behavior and in a fairly positive way. Almost like a bloodless revolution. Most of the efforts in the world of branding have been only towards creating a brand that generated profits. Time may have come to generate brands that generate a positive feeling. Many of the modern world’s worries need the attention of branding: controlling pollution, eradicating inequality, protecting the world’s climate, and controlling new diseases. Not through coercion but through willing participation. These three new challenges can expand the world of branding, its expertise, and its ability and make it relevant to today’s world.

It may even get itself an appreciative pat on its back in these days of “No Logo.” •

Appeared in Internationalist Magazine, published from New York in March 2005

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